Who Is Epictetus

One of my favorite books is “The Art of Living” by Epictetus (the new interpretation by Sharon Lebell).

Epictetus was one of the lesser-known but great philosophers in history whose students included Marcus Aurelius, among others. His teachings rank with those contained in the greatest wisdom literature of human civilization. The Discourses could be thought of as the West’s answer to Buddhism’s Dhammapada or Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. Epictetus established an influential school of Stoic philosophy, stressing that human beings cannot control life, only their responses to it.

In reading over a chapter in “The Art of Living” titled Speak Only With Good Purpose it occurred to me that Epictetus might have had a real problem with social media in general, and Twitter specifically. You see Epictetus believed that in order to lead a moral life one needed to perfect ‘right speech’. He said:

First and foremost, think before you speak to make sure you are speaking with good purpose. Glib talk disrespects others. Breezy self-disclosure disrespects yourself. So many people feel compelled to give voice to any passing feeling, thought or impression they have. They randomly dump the contents of their minds without regard to the consequences. This is practically and morally dangerous…Frivolous talk is hurtful talk; besides, it is unbecoming to be a chatterbox.

He went on to say:

It’s not necessary to restrict yourself to lofty subjects or philosophy all the time, but be aware that the common babbling that passes for worthwhile discussion has a corrosive effect on your higher purpose. When we blather about trivial things, we ourselves become trivial, for our attention gets taken up with trivialities. You become what you give your attention to.

So I ask my Tweets, friends and colleagues who actively participate in and consult marketers on the art and science of social media – what say ye of Epictetus’ wisdom? Are we ourselves becoming trivial because we speak of trivial issues on Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed and other forums that enable us to post our everyday observations?

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